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Holcim plans $1.1 billion buyback after better than expected results

Logo of Swiss cement maker Holcim is seen in Zug

By John Revill

ZURICH (Reuters) -Holcim will launch a 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.14 billion) share buyback by the end of the year, the building materials giant said on Wednesday after reporting fourth-quarter earnings slightly ahead of forecasts.

The Swiss cement maker, which last month announced plans to spin off its fast-growing American business, was in confident mood after posting record annual operating profit on the back of efficiency gains and price increases.

For the fourth quarter, Holcim posted recurring operating profit of 1.12 billion Swiss francs, slightly above analyst expectations of 1.07 billion francs.

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Sales rose 2.1% to 6.6 billion francs, against the 6.5 billion francs forecast by analysts.

Shares were up 2.6% in pre-market trading in Zurich.

Chief Executive Jan Jenisch highlighted the company's higher profitability during 2023, supported by 28 acquisitions and a focus on higher-margin businesses.

Holcim continued to reshape its portfolio over the year by selling its operations in Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania while boosting its presence in the North American market.

"Moving our business from volume to value, we have successfully shifted to the most attractive markets with strong growth drivers and margins," Jenisch said in a statement.

For the full year, Holcim increased organic sales - which cut out currency and acquisition effects - by 6.1%, meeting its goal for an increase of 6% or better.

However, Holcim - the results of which are widely viewed as a proxy for the broader construction sector - said it expected a slowdown in 2024, with currency adjusted sales forecast to rise by 4%.

An additional 2% of growth will come from acquisitions, the company added.

Holcim last month announced it plans to spin off its North American business in a New York listing. The business accounts for about 39% of group sales.

North America was Holcim's most profitable market last year and its second-biggest by sales behind Europe, contributing nearly a third of operating income.

($1 = 0.8801 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John RevillEditing by Rachel More and David Goodman)